Description and Characteristics
Baino, known by a number of names including Sacred Lotus, or simply Lotus, is an aquatic herb with creeping rootstock that persists for many growing seasons. Its large, rounded or shield-shaped leaves raised above the water, grow up to 90 centimeters wide, and have a stalk attached at a point on the underside of each leaf. One of lotus’ main features is its attractive flower in colors of pink, red, or white, standing out of the water through a stalk, and developing up to 25 centimeters in diameter. Stalks of flowers and leaves grow up to 1.5 meters in length or more. Each flower has about 20 pink petals measuring up to 15 centimeters per petal. Located at the center of a flower is an inverted cone-like structure with ovules on top of it. These ovules later on develop into seeds. The pleasant fragrant of the flower attracts insects and beetles which help in its pollination. Given a favorable environment, lotus seeds may remain viable for many years. So far, the oldest recorded lotus germination is from that of seeds 1,300 years old discovered in a dry lakebed in northeastern China.
Location and Sources
It is abundant in marshes and shallow lakes and favors rich loam soils with water temperatures of 23 – 27°c and requires a five month growing season. Based on studies, lotus plants are resentful of root disturbance and should be planted into their permanent positions as soon as possible.
Lotus is native to many Asian countries including China, Thailand, Vietnam, India, and Philippines (from northern Luzon to Mindanao). Lotus is mainly regarded as a food and as a plant with religious value, hence it’s cultivation in many local communities. But just in recent years, Vietnam was put into limelight because of its rare and highly sought-after thread derived from lotus plants which was made popular in a village on the outskirts of Hanoi. Lotus has also become one of the leading inspirations in many designs and artistic concepts of products even during the ancient times in the countries of Thailand, India, and Vietnam. Some of the picturesque lotus plantations are also located in these countries. In northern Vietnam, communes like Chuyen Ngoai, Moc Nam, and Moc Bac grow lotus on close to 30 hectares. The white and pink lotuses are national flowers of India and Vietnam, respectively.
Application and Product Output
All parts of lotus plants can be utilized and have its various applications whether in the field of medicine, cosmetics, culinary, rituals and traditions, arts, and crafts. Its medicinal application is evident even in ancient times as this helped people with tissue inflammation, fever, diarrhea, skin disease, and other illnesses. Thus, it is considered as one of the most sacred plants in Asia and is being used in rituals and ceremonies even up to these days. Different parts of lotus have different medicinal benefits, to name a few: (1) Flowers: used in diarrhea, cholera, liver complaints, fevers, as astringent, and a syrup made from the flowers is used in coughs, to check hemorrhages in bleeding piles, menorrhagia, and dysentery (2) Leaves: applied to the body to relieve fever, soreness, inflammation, and skin diseases (3) Seeds: used in leprosy, skin diseases, dysentery and as diuretic (4) Roots: used as rejuvenating tonic, astringent, and for piles. Through time, people established these medicinal properties of lotus and some manufacturers were able to produce various promising products including those in cosmetics such as lotions, ointments, haircare, skincare, makeup, and beauty products.
Lotus is also a food plant. Its petals, leaves, and rhizomes can all be eaten raw, but it is recommended that they be cooked as there is a risk of parasite transmission due to its habitat. Lotus rootlets are often pickled with rice vinegar, sugar, chili and/or garlic and are also used in salads. Pollen and stamens are used to perfume tea while the roasted seeds can be used as coffee substitute. On the other hand, flower petals can be floated in soups, fried, and used as a garnish.
In the field of arts and crafts, lotus was recently put into the world’s spotlight for its leaves and stalks. Kieu Cao Dung, a Vietnamese artist was featured in a publication for turning ordinary lotus leaves into works of art with traditional cultural features. Dung uses the processed dry leaves of lotus as his canvas and does his paintings and calligraphy directly on it. His traditional folk artworks were well appreciated not only in his local community but also by foreign customers. He also continues to introduce and promotes this unique art to the world.
Probably one of the most significant applications of lotus is in the weaving and textile industry. In recent years, fashion designers were into fabric known as the “lotus silk” which is made out of fibers found in the stems/stalks of lotus. During colonial rule, locals of Vietnam were already making and selling this traditional silk to the French. And from then on, the process of extracting and weaving lotus fiber was passed on to the succeeding generations. Lotus silk is made in many countries including Myanmar, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
Production and Sustainable Consumption
Lotus silk production led to a new level of appreciation for the lotus plant aside from its spiritual and medicinal reputation. The production of lotus silk involves a painstaking process from growing the plants, harvesting, fiber extraction, weaving, and designing. Furthermore, according to Vietnamese weaver Phan Thi Thuan, a large scarf requires the thread of around 9,200 stems and would take one worker around two months to complete. Hence, to support and sustain this growing industry in Vietnam, the Ministry of Science and Technology kickstarted a three-year national-level project to further develop the harvesting technique especially in villages where lotus thrives. Moreover, both local and national agencies are also promoting lotus in the arts and crafts industry.
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